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Dentist or Orthodontist: Who Should You Choose? 

The AAO’s newest video educates consumers about the importance of receiving treatment from an orthodontist by highlighting the educational difference between a dentist and an orthodontist. Who will accept the Golden Aligner? Watch the decision play out in the third video in the Consumer Awareness Program Straight Talk series. In this video, Dr. Enrique Cruz is chosen to treat the patient because of his specialized education and training.  

People often wonder what the difference is between an orthodontist and a dentist. Both dentists and orthodontists work on teeth, provide professional care that helps patients have good oral health, and both are dental school graduates. Your dentist may even offer orthodontic services, leading you to assume that they are an orthodontist. But the truth is that putting aligners or braces on teeth does not make a dentist an orthodontist. 

Dentists, who are also known as general (or family) dentists, are concerned with overall oral health. Dentists treat decayed teeth (fillings) and remove failed teeth (extractions). They usually provide services such as crowns, veneers, or bonding to improve the appearance and function of teeth that have extensive decay or are misshapen or broken. Dentists look for abnormalities in the mouth and teach patients how to prevent dental disease. 

As knowledgeable and skillful as dentists are, certain areas of dentistry have educational programs beyond dental school. Orthodontics is one of those areas. And that’s where specialists, such as orthodontists, come in. 

Dental specialists get to be specialists by completing four years of general dental education in dental school and then continuing in an accredited program where they study their specific specialty full-time for two or more years. When dentists studying a specialty area successfully complete their formal specialty education, they can use a title that denotes their area of specialization. “Orthodontist” is one example. 

Other dental specialists include endodontists specializing in root canals; periodontists specializing in treating gum disease; pediatric dentists specializing in dental care for the under-21 age group; and oral and maxillofacial surgeons specializing in face, mouth, and jaw surgery. Orthodontists are specialists who focus on the bite – how teeth meet and function, how they are aligned, how they are set in the jaws, and the positioning and sizes of the upper and lower jaws. 

General dentists are licensed to practice dentistry. Some states allow them to provide specialty care, even if they do not have formal post-dental school training in the specialty services. For example, a dentist may be able to perform a root canal, but that does not mean he/she is an endodontist. A dentist may be able to extract a tooth, but that does not mean he/she is an oral surgeon. Likewise, a dentist may be able to provide braces or aligners to move teeth, but that does not mean the dentist is an orthodontist. Only orthodontists have additional orthodontic education from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, providing them with specialized training in moving teeth. 

If you’re thinking about orthodontic treatment, consider a specialist: an orthodontist. Only bona fide orthodontists get to be members of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). Visit to find your AAO orthodontist.